Real experts in the tricky field of natural gas measurement don’t come along every day. Those who do emerge find that their names and reputations precede them, be it in the operational, commercial or research side of the business. And that is where we find John Lansing today.
Lansing, 64, is vice president of Global Operations for CEESI, Colorado Engineering Experiment Station Inc., a leading research center that specializes in flow meter testing and meter calibrations. One of CEESI’s specialties concerns ultrasonic flow meters, a device that came to market in the late 1990s and has helped revolutionize the measurement business. In fact, a recent series of studies from Flow Research found that the market for ultrasonic meters totaled $632 million in 2011, and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 9.6% through 2016.
As the industry has grown, so has Lansing’s reputation as a measurement guru. A graduate of California State Polytechnic Institute-Pomona where he would eventually earn his BS in mechanical engineering, he joined CEESI in August 2012. Previously Lansing worked for a number of prominent suppliers including Instromet, Emerson and Sick Maihak. In this interview, the native Californian talks about the measurement business and suggests that it offers plenty of opportunities for young engineers to thrive in.
P&GJ: John, where did you grow up and what were your interests as a young man?
Lansing: I was born in Upland, CA. We lived in Ontario, a neighboring town, until September 1958 when we moved to Denver. In January 1960 we moved to Arroyo Grande, CA and continued moving every year or two until we returned to Ontario in 1965 where we lived for many years. I enjoyed electricity from as far back as I can remember. Later I also became interested in automotive.
P&GJ: How did you end up in the energy industry? Did you follow someone else from your family into the business?
Lansing: My father worked in the aerospace industry (electronics technician) starting in Denver in 1958. He worked as a “job shopper,” so we traveled to where the next job was. Typically we never lived in a city more than two years, sometimes just six months. After several years of constantly changing jobs, we returned to Ontario in 1964 and my father went to work for Douglas Aircraft where he took a position that was much steadier.
I wanted to be an electrical engineer somewhat following in my father’s footsteps, and also a mechanical engineer, so I enrolled in Cal Poly University (a college at that time) in September 1967. After two+ years of college, I ran out of money and needed a job to continue. During 1968 and 1969 I had summer jobs at Lockheed (electronics division). I was a general electronics technician the first year. In 1969 I was prototyping the first flight data recorders (black boxes) under the direction of one of my electrical engineering instructors.
This was a a very interesting assignment but I needed to continue working part time during the school year in order to pay for college. Unfortunately, the aerospace industry was very slow that year, and HR would not allow me to continue working part time. I had enough money to remain in school another six months. When I ran out of money, I left school to look for a full-time job. Deciding that the aerospace industry was just too volatile for a career, I applied at public utility companies figuring they were much more stable. I applied at the telephone company (GTE), Southern California Edison, and Southern California Gas (SoCalGas). SoCalGas offered me a position which I accepted. Thus my career in the gas industry began in April 1970.
P&GJ: So, how did you finally end up at CEESI?
Lansing: I enjoyed my 16+ years with three gas USM (ultrasonic meter) manufacturers after my 26+ years at SoCalGas. During my USM career my responsibilities included everything from technical support manager to sales to product manager to technician to trainer and more. I really enjoy presenting at conferences on diagnostics for USMs. Steve Caldwell (president and co-founder of CEESI) approached me and discussed working for CEESI to do training, and to help promote CEESmaRT, a new product that had been developed by CEESI and RT Technical Solutions. CEESmaRT intrigued me because it helps clients to take full advantage of USM diagnostics in a way never done before. It would be a good opportunity for me to do more training while promoting a product that helps clients realize the full value of their gas USM.
P&GJ: What are your responsibilities at CEESI, what projects will you be involved in, and why did you decide to make this move from private industry to a research organization?
Lansing: As anyone who has worked for a small, privately held company knows, everyone will have many varying responsibilities. Of course I do some training in gas ultrasonics from time to time at industry conferences like ISHM (International School of Hydrocarbon Measurement) and ASGMT (American School of Gas Measurement Technology). I also assist in CEESI training classes for clients by working with Bill Frasier and Joel Clancy on our staff. One of my major roles is to assist in sales and marketing of CEESmaRT on behalf of CEESI. Here I work closely with Ed Hanks and Laura Lawton and all the other folks at RT Technical Solutions. I give client presentations and seek out additional sales opportunities. Additionally I offer client ideas to the CEESmaRT team for product improvement consideration.
I attend the AGA TMC (American Gas Association Transmission Measurement Committee) meetings, and also am a committee member for ISHM and AGMSC. Other activities include providing technical assistance on gas ultrasonic questions users have from time to time (analyze maintenance reports). And like everyone who enjoys learning, I enjoy spending time “going back to school” on liquid and multi-phase measurement by working with some of the most talented people in the industry like Dr. Richard Steven and Terry Cousins.
P&GJ: What professional achievements are you most proud of?
Lansing: After leaving SoCalGas I had the good fortune of joining the fast-growing gas ultrasonic metering industry in 1996. I was able to share my ideas with three manufacturers that I worked for during this 16+ year period. I saw these companies grow and each one become the market leader during my time of employment with them. I am very proud to have had the opportunity to utilize some of my electronics, mechanical and measurement experience in the product development side of the business, along with experiencing the sales and marketing aspects.
P&GJ: Many segments of the energy industry complain about a lack of qualified personnel. Is this also true in the measurement? What is the industry doing to try and attract more young people to the business?
Lansing: Today I believe most field technicians are tasked with doing a variety of job activities in addition to measurement. In the past measurement technicians really learned their trade and were 100% focused on all aspects associated with the operation and maintenance of a measurement facility. They really were experts at what they did. I don’t think the majority of technicians now are given the time to develop their knowledge as was the case years ago.
Recently I’ve seen increased attendance at the major gas and liquid conferences like ISHM and ASGMT It appears that companies now realize they need to focus more effort on getting their employees better educated and are willing to send them to these conferences for training.
P&GJ: What are the most pressing issues today involving natural gas measurement?
Lansing: I think the rate of change for new products being developed and introduced into the gas industry makes it harder for companies to keep up with improved technology. Additional emphasis on training will be needed in order to take full advantage of these products.
P&GJ: Where have the greatest advances in gas measurement been made since you began your work, and how have you seen the business change?
Lansing: Both the primary and ancillary devices have improved significantly during the past 40+ years of my measurement career. Going from chart recorders on turbine and orifice meters to using ultrasonic and Coriolis meters, along with electronic flow computers incorporating pressure and temperature transmitters, is a significant advancement in gas measurement. All of these technologies, through the use of diagnostics, reduce maintenance costs, so the client realizes a second benefit.
P&GJ: What do you think might be the next breakout technology in measurement?
Lansing: Possibly the ability of a device to replace the gas chromatograph (GC) and maintain the same level of uncertainty, if not improve on it. Of course we have devices today that can provide energy and some level of information needed to determine compressibility. However, most companies are staying with the gas chromatograph as their standard for a variety of reasons. Much like the GC replaced both the calorimeter and gravimetric devices from the 1980s, I see newer technology poised to replace the GC in the coming years.
P&GJ: Is enough money being spent on measurement research, especially when issues like integrity management and cybersecurity seem to draw the most attention?
Lansing: It does seem that the focus on research by the industry has diminished over the last decade. This is probably due to changes in funding mechanisms that once supported more independent research. I believe there is much more competition today in new measurement technologies. We only have to look back 10 years when there were far fewer gas ultrasonic meters on the market than today.
With the continued strong sales growth in the gas ultrasonic arena during the past 10 years, most manufacturers have allocated significantly more money to develop new and improved products. This all translates into more choices for the consumer, which can be a good thing, but it can also make the decision one that may not be based only technical merit, but more on price and service.
P&GJ: Do operating companies truly understand the importance of accurate measurement, especially when it might affect their lost and unaccounted for gas?
Lansing: Most companies do understand the importance of accurate measurement. I know many in our industry grumble that upper management doesn’t seem to put enough importance on this subject. However, when I ask about the level of their lost and unaccounted for gas, they all agree it is far less today than 10-15 years ago. If it were excessive, I’m sure more emphasis would be placed on lowering it. Through the use of all the newer technologies, it might seem that measurement isn’t as important as it once was. However, it’s my view that companies are just doing a better job of managing and maintaining their measurement facilities.
P&GJ: What are some of your interests away from work?
Lansing: Away from work I enjoy listening to analog music, the occasional round of golf, and still look forward to the time when I can get back into working on 1960s’ muscle cars.
P&GJ: I find that when I talk to people involved in measurement, there is nothing they would rather be doing. Why so?
Lansing: Perhaps a single word – passion – explains why most folks enjoy this industry. I don’t think someone who really doesn’t care about their job will be happy working around others who feel their job is very important to the success of their company. If someone joins the measurement team, which is a fairly small community, it simply gets in their blood to learn more, and before long it becomes a career they don’t want to change.